Harry deLeyer, 93, Dies; He Saved a Horse and Made Him a Legend

Harry deLeyer, a horse coach and rider who, in what can solely be described as a nags-to-riches story, turned an aged, deserted gelding named Snowman into one of the vital acclaimed present horses of all time, died on June 25 in Stanardsville, Va. He was 93.

His daughter Harriet confirmed his loss of life, at an assisted dwelling facility.

Mr. deLeyer (pronounced deh-LAY-er) was a Dutch immigrant who had labored with the anti-German resistance throughout World War II and arrived within the United States in 1950 with his spouse, Johanna, his work expertise largely confined to his household farm within the Netherlands. He quickly took a job because the using teacher at a ladies faculty on Long Island.

In 1956 he traveled to a horse public sale in Pennsylvania to see if he may decide up just a few animals for his newbie college students. But he needed to cease for a flat tire, and by the point he arrived for the public sale, it was over. The horses that hadn’t been bought had been being loaded onto a truck, certain for the slaughterhouse.

Mr. deLeyer peered inside, and a grayish-white horse caught his eye. The others had been visibly frightened; this one was calm. Most had apparent accidents; this one, except for just a few superficial scars, was wholesome and well-built. He had been a plow horse and, at about 8 years outdated, was beginning to wear down.

Mr. deLeyer, who grew up round work horses, noticed one thing the other patrons hadn’t. He purchased the horse for $80 (about $750 in immediately’s cash), at a time when prize horses would possibly have fetched over $40,000 (or about $375,000 immediately). When he arrived house with the horse, his 4-year-old daughter, Harriet, named it Snowman.

Snowman was alleged to be a lesson horse for new riders. But as he gained energy, he confirmed promise as a jumper, and Mr. deLeyer was at all times looking out for new present horses. He and Snowman started to coach.

“I think that horse knew my father had given him a second chance,” Harriet deLeyer stated in a cellphone interview. “My father asked him to do some crazy things, and he would do it.”

Two years later, Mr. deLeyer rode Snowman in his first competitors, an area present, where they simply took the blue ribbon within the jumper class. Another, greater present adopted, where they knocked off the two-time defending champion. More victories adopted.

“There seems to be no end to Snowman’s winning titles at the nation’s biggest shows,” the journalist Marie Lafrenz wrote in The New York Herald Tribune.

Horse exhibits had been extensively common within the Nineteen Fifties, particularly round New York City, where the well-to-do each participated and noticed — the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden kicked off the Manhattan social season.

The press fawned over Snowman and Mr. deLeyer, as did the followers, who cherished their scrappy strategy to an in any other case elite endeavor. Where many groups arrived with fancy tools and huge entourages, Mr. deLeyer confirmed up with Johanna, their eight kids and his occasional pupil, all of whom pitched in. Just a few of them hand-painted the signal outdoors their short-term steady throughout their first look at Madison Square Garden, in 1958.

Snowman took the blue ribbon that 12 months, was named horse of the 12 months by the American Horse Shows Association (immediately the United States Equestrian Federation) and received the Professional Horsemen’s Association championship, making him one of many few horses to win what was then thought-about the game’s triple crown.

Mr. deLeyer and Snowman narrowly missed repeating their achievement the subsequent 12 months, once more profitable at Madison Square Garden and capturing the horse of the 12 months title.

The inconceivable story of Harry deLeyer and his “Cinderella Horse” made them celebrities. They appeared on the “Tonight Show,” where Johnny Carson took a flip within the saddle. They traveled to Europe. Fans got here from around the globe to go to their Long Island paddock.

Appearing on “The Dick Cavett Show,” Mr. deLeyer stated: “Snowman and me both came from nothing. But together we made it to the top of the world.”

Snowman continued to compete, however much less typically, and profitable fewer titles as he confronted youthful and youthful horses. He and Mr. deLeyer extra typically appeared at exhibitions — regardless of his age, he may simply clear seven-foot-tall obstacles and took to leaping over other horses as a part of his present.

Mr. deLeyer at all times expressed amazement at Snowman’s energy — “a freak of nature,” he as soon as referred to as him — however he insisted that the important thing to the horse’s success was his demeanor: calm, pleasant, prepared. Out of the ring, Snowman grew to become part of the deLeyer household, lake-swimming with the youngsters in the summertime and pulling them on skis within the winter.

Snowman officially retired in 1969, at Madison Square Garden, where the gang stood cheering and singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

In 1974, Snowman started to expertise kidney failure, and the deLeyers determined to euthanize him. For all his hard-bitten farmboy angle, Mr. deLeyer at first couldn’t deliver himself to be there when the veterinarian took Snowman from his steady. But the horse refused to go till Mr. deLeyer arrived, teary-eyed, to stroll him out.

Henricus deLeyer was born on Sept. 21, 1927 in Sint-Oedenrode, a Dutch city close to the Belgian border. His father, Josephus, ran the household farm and brewery, while his mom, Wilhelmina, raised their 12 kids.

Mr. deLeyer, who adopted the primary identify Harry when he got here to the United States, discovered to journey virtually as early as he discovered to stroll, and by 7 he was competing, finally making it to the Dutch junior nationwide workforce.

His budding equestrian profession was disrupted when the Germans invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. His father turned their farm right into a method station for the resistance, hiding Jews and downed Allied pilots in a secret cellar that he dug out subsequent to a barn and disguised underneath a manure pile. At night time, Harry would journey out on horseback, in search of wounded pilots.

One such pilot, an American, died quickly after Harry introduced him again to thefarm. The household buried him, and despatched his canine tags again to his mother and father in North Carolina, who struck up a correspondence with Mr. deLeyer and Johanna. In 1950 they sponsored the couple’s arrival within the United States.

The deLeyers separated within the Nineteen Seventies, and Mr. deLeyer later remarried. His second spouse, Joan, died in 2013. Three of his kids, Joseph, William and Harry Jr., additionally died.

As nicely as his daughter Harriet, he’s survived by his kids Martin, Andre, John and AnnaMarie; 14 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Information on his siblings within the Netherlands was not instantly accessible.

Mr. deLeyer spent 4 years managing a tobacco farm in North Carolina, displaying horses on the weekends. He and his household moved to Long Island in 1954, when he grew to become the using teacher on the all-girls Knox School in St. James, N.Y.

Snowman was not his solely horse, and Mr. deLeyer continued to journey competitively, even after Snowman’s loss of life. Fans referred to as Mr. deLeyer “the Galloping Grandfather,” and if he didn’t at all times win — although he typically did — he was beloved as a fierce competitor and keen showman.

In 1979 he returned to the National Horse Show and as soon as once more took the blue ribbon in his class, 20 years after his preliminary triumph.

He continued to show using and practice horses, finally transferring to rural central Virginia, where he owned a breeding farm. His household adopted his lead: Six of his eight kids grew to become riders and trainers as nicely.

Snowman and Mr. deLeyer had been the topic of a number of books, together with “The 80 Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse Who Inspired a Nation” (2011) by Elizabeth Betts, a New York Times finest vendor.

They had been additionally featured in a 2016 documentary, “Harry and Snowman,” which consists of intensive interviews with Mr. deLeyer.

“I had so many wonderful horses in my life, but Snowman was the most special to me,” he stated within the movie. “Snowman was more than a horse to me. He was my friend.”

You might like